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From the moment a bridge neophyte learns how to win an additional trick by finessing, his progress toward expertness may be charted on a graph recording the frequency of his finesses.
For a while, like a child with a new toy, he takes every finesse in sight. Sooner or later he learns to avoid the dangerous finesses which are not necessary to his purpose. Later still, he is able to sidestep finesses which on superficial analysis appear to be necessary but actually are not. Finally he comes to recognize the situation when an "unnecessary" finesse is the only way to make his contract. At that moment he has graduated to the high rank of expert.
How can an essential finesse be labeled "unnecessary"? To illustrate, let me cite this historic deal, played by my good Dutch friends the Goudsmits. It occurred in the international bridge matches held at Scheveningen, Netherlands in 1932.
I am unable to explain the Goudsmits' bidding system. Obviously, North's two no-trump response was intended to describe a much stronger hand than it would today. However, the slam contract was reasonably sound. With a trump split, 12 tricks would have been available, regardless of the location of the spade king. But declarer ran into a bad break in trumps.
Dummy won the heart opening, and the queen of spades was led. East covered with the king, and South won with the ace. Now if either opponent had started life with a doubleton 10, declarer would make a grand slam. But West showed out on the next spade lead, leaving East's 10-8 as the major tenace.
To avoid conceding two trump tricks, South had to find some way of reducing his own hand to only two trumps and then getting dummy on lead at the crucial moment, so that East would have to play a trump from his 10-8 ahead of declarer's 9-7.
South led to his diamond ace, returned to dummy with a heart and trumped a diamond. Next he cashed the ace of clubs and led the 4. West played the 9 and, although declarer could win all the club tricks without a finesse, he was forced to take the "unnecessary" finesse of dummy's ten-spot to gain an extra entry to dummy.
When the club 10 held the trick another low diamond was trumped. Dummy was reentered with the king of clubs to lead the king of diamonds. East had to play his diamond jack under the king, and South discarded his good queen of clubs.
On the next lead from dummy South held the 9-7 of spades behind East's 10-8. No matter which trump East used, he could not prevent South from scoring the 12th trick. Making the slam helped the Netherlands defeat Norway and finish second to the great Austrian team that had dominated European bridge from 1933 to 1937.
Without detracting from Fritz Goudsmit's fine recovery, I should point out (before my sharp-eyed readers reach for their typewriters) that his own haste had made the "unnecessary" finesse essential. It could have been avoided if he had cashed the ace of diamonds before leading a second spade. No doubt the "good luck" of winning the extra finesse made him careless.